In November 2016, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said through a Twitter post that a solar roof will probably be offered as an option for the upcoming Model 3 electric vehicle.
The idea, at the time, was met with disbelief, as the state of the technology will not allow for a solar roof to power up an entire electric vehicle.
However, Panasonic has unveiled new technology that could make a solar roof for the Model 3 a possible feature.
Is A Solar-Powered Electric Vehicle Possible?
The roof of the Model 3 is only big enough for a solar panel that would, at best, add an additional mile or two in range daily, which means that installing a solar roof on the upcoming mass market electric vehicle will not be worth the trouble and the added cost.
One example is with Toyota's Prius PHV, which had a solar roof option. The solar panels installed on the vehicle were only able to generate 50 W of power, which was just enough to power the fans for the car's air conditioning system.
As such, Musk's claim that a solar roof option will be offered for the Model 3 was seen as impossible, and for some, simply absurd. New technology announced by Panasonic, however, paints Musk's tweet in a new light.
Panasonic Unveils Solar Roof For Automobiles
Panasonic, one of Tesla's main partners for its supply of solar cells and batteries, recently unveiled new solar roof technology that it calls the HITTM Photovoltaic Module for Automobile. The solar roof was developed for the Toyota Prius PHV, but the company has hinted at the possibility that the technology will be coming to other electric vehicles.
The solar roof for vehicles created by Panasonic is capable of charging lithium-ion batteries, which are the ones used by Tesla in its electric vehicles. The technology allows for a 180 W module on the Toyota Prius PHV, as well as charging the powertrain battery and 12 V batteries of vehicles.
However, while the technology offers a drastic improvement compared to previous forms of solar roofs for electric vehicles, there is still a lot of room for improvement. With the new solar roof, a parked electric vehicle might be able to store enough energy to add up to 4 miles in range daily, which will be significant over time but not a head-turning feature. In addition, it was said that for the Toyota Prius PHV equipped with the new solar roof to become fully charged from an empty battery, it would take about a week of gathering power from the sun if only using the solar roof alone to charge up.
Tesla Model 3 Progress
The new solar roof technology for vehicles by Panasonic currently has no timeline on its arrival to the United States, as the reinforced glass sheeting used to the solar panels have not yet passed the rollover crash tests required by regulators. However, Musk seemed so confident in his tweet from a few months ago that it makes you wonder if he and Tesla have something up their sleeves.
Tesla previously noted that the Model 3 will be produced at the company's Gigafactory in Nevada, with limited production to begin by July. Musk also recently revealed a preview on what the Model 3 will look like once it rolls out.